Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Letterfrack

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Emotional abuse


The remote location of Letterfrack was a problem from the first days of the Institution in the 1880s, and it continued to be a problem for the rest of its history. It was identified in the early 1950s by the Department of Education and District Justices, when they cited it as the primary reason against turning Letterfrack into a reformatory-type institution. The Congregation, on the other hand, saw the remoteness and distance as advantages in dealing with so-called ‘delinquents’, because it removed the boys from what they saw as corrupting influences. The importance of family contact was not considered.


The parent or guardian of a child detained in an industrial school had the right to apply to the Minister for Education for the release of the child pursuant to Section 69(3) of the Children Act, 1908 which allowed the Minister to exercise his discretion to release a child or young person committed. Pursuant to the Children (Amendment) Act, 1957 the position with regard to children who were non-offenders or those committed for non-attendance at school was different, in that the release was mandatory if the Minister was satisfied that the circumstances which led to the committal had changed or ceased and the parents were able to support the child.


An examination of the records of the Department of Education reveals that, invariably, applications for early release were initiated by the parents, very often through the offices of a local public representative. There does not appear to have been a system whereby a child’s case or sentence was automatically reviewed to establish if any of the criteria for an early release were present.65


Once a letter from a parent or public representative was received, the Department wrote to the School and sought observations on the character and ability of the child, together with his proficiency in education and trade (if any). The local Gardaí/ISPCC were contacted, and their recommendation was sought as to the financial and other family circumstances, including an assessment of the suitability of the parent/guardian to have custody of the child.


There are no records concerning application for early release prior to the late 1950s in the Letterfrack discovery from the Department of Education.


A number of examples from the Departmental records illustrated the factors that were taken into consideration by the Department in deciding whether or not to release the child:


The mother of a boy committed to Letterfrack for three and a half years for housebreaking applied for his early release six months into his sentence, as the family had emigrated to the UK. The school was not in favour on the grounds that the boy was getting on well in school and trade. The Department sought a reference from the police in the UK, who were satisfied that the family were in a financial position to support the boy and had not come to the notice of the police. The Department official, in coming to his decision, noted that, although the family had failed to exercise parental control in the past and despite the view of the School: the emigration of the family to England is an important factor in this case and, lest the boy should feel he had been abandoned, perhaps it would be better to release him from detention and such action is recommended for the Minister’s consideration.


The boy was released.


The mother of a boy sentenced to two years in Letterfrack made representations through her local TD to have her son allowed home for Christmas and also sought a remission of his sentence. The boy had served two months when the application was made. The Garda report stated that, although the financial circumstances were adequate and the father was of good character, the mother was deemed unsuitable as she frequented pubs late at night and two of her other children were in detention for criminal activity. The School reported that he was progressing well at school, had settled and they did not recommend his release ‘at present’.


The application was refused.


The parents of a boy detained in Letterfrack from 1970 to 1974 approached a number of public representatives one month after his detention to request their son be transferred to a school nearer his home. The School was not in favour and stated he had settled down and it would disrupt his education to transfer him. The Manager offered to facilitate a visit by the parents by bringing the boy to Galway.


One year later, the parents made further representations and the School was contacted to assess whether there was a change in circumstances. The Manager stated that he had no objection to a transfer to Ferryhouse if there was a vacancy there. The authorities in Ferryhouse were approached by the Department and they refused to take the transfer.


The boy was not allowed home that summer, as he had failed to return on two previous occasions and a Brother from Letterfrack had had to be sent to fetch him.


The parents persisted and, in late 1971, they again sought a transfer for the boy. The parents were informed that they could now avail of a free travel scheme to see their son more regularly. This, however, did not prove helpful, as the journey to Letterfrack could not be achieved in a single day.


In 1972, the parents again approached the Department who asked the School to allow him home on supervision. This was rejected by the School Manager who was ‘certain the release of this boy would not be for his good’. A Garda report in mid-1972 stated that the family had a nice comfortable home and could afford to maintain and support their son, although it did not recommend his release due to the failure by the father to exercise control of his son in the past. The boy was allowed home for a month’s holiday in 1972.

  1. Letterfrack Industrial School, Report on archival material held at Cluain Mhuire, by Bernard Dunleavy BL (2001).
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  6. Prior Park was a residential school run by the Christian Brothers near Bath, England.
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  19. This document is undated, although the date ‘6th November 1964’ is crossed out.
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  32. See table at paragraph 3.20 .
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  36. This information is taken from a report compiled for the Christian Brothers by Michael Bruton in relation to Letterfrack in 2001.
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  58. Electricity Supply Board.
  59. See table at paragraph 8.21 .
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  61. Cross-reference to CB General Chapter where notes that this arrangement was with the agreement of the Department of Education.
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  65. Gateways Chapter 3 goes into this in detail.